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Zimmerman: Good neighbor or vigilante?

  • Mel Robbins is an attorney and HLN contributor
  • She explains why the judge in the Zimmerman trial allowed a controversial 911 call into evidence
Zimmerman: Good neighbor or vigilante?
Mel Robbins

Editor’s note: Mel Robbins is a criminal defense attorney and HLN legal contributor. She is an author, talk radio host and the editor-in-chief of Robbins Rundown. She is on Twitter.

The judge in the George Zimmerman trial granted on Wednesday the prosecution’s request to introduce a controversial 911 call into evidence. It is a non-emergency call Zimmerman placed on August 3, 2011, seven months before he shot Trayvon Martin.

On the call, Zimmerman is heard reporting that "our neighborhood got burglarized today." It is a call that is remarkably similar to the one he placed the night Martin was killed, except for one big difference -- on the August call, he didn't follow anyone, he just placed the call and took no further action.

In fact, Zimmerman would call the police non-emergency line four more times in the months leading up to the night he shot Martin. The prosecution wants the jury to hear these five non-emergency calls placed on August 3, 2011; August 6, 2011 ("break-in recently" "two black males in their teens"); September 23, 2011 ("they typically run away quickly and run over to the next neighborhood over"); October 1, 2011 ("part of the neighborhood watch" "string of burglaries") ; and February 2, 2012.  

In each of these calls, Zimmerman goes through the process of describing what he sees and answering the operator’s questions. He does not follow anyone or take any further action. He sounds calm, cooperative and concerned about what he is seeing. He does not sound like a vigilante.

At first glance, it would seem that these calls bode well for the defense because they paint Zimmerman as a neighborhood watch captain who is following protocol rather than a vigilante.

So, what is the prosecution up to, exactly? Simple: They will argue that Zimmerman has called the non-emergency line five other times and never pursued the teens he saw. They want to use his prior "good" behavior to prove that he knew the rules not to pursue someone when he had seen suspicious behavior and that he had followed it five other times. 

Then, the prosecution will assert that on the night he shot Martin, Zimmerman purposefully broke from the protocol he was familiar with to follow and chase Martin. They will argue that he we was "pent up" about the burglaries he had previously reported and the kids that "typically run away."

The prosecution will argue that the night he shot Martin, Zimmerman was different than the meek, responsible man his neighbors knew. They will likely link it to his comments calling the teens "punks" and that they “always get away" to show that unlike the other calls where he followed protocol, on February 26, he was set on catching one of those "punks.”

The prosecution needs this in order to prove that Zimmerman had a "depraved mind," which is necessary for a murder in the second-degree conviction.

Typically, examples of prior behavior cannot come into evidence because they can be highly prejudicial. Your past behavior does not prove how you might act in a similar situation in the future. We saw an example of this when the defense tried to include evidence of Martin’s trouble at school and photos of a gun on his phone because they show a "propensity" to be in trouble, which supports the defense’ theory that Martin jumped Zimmerman. The judge refused to admit it, which was the right call.

But the prosecution isn't trying to bring in examples of Zimmerman's bad past behavior -- they want to bring in examples of good behavior. The previous 911 calls show Zimmerman following the rules and acting calm and concerned. That hardly seems prejudicial to the defense and that's why I think the judge has allowed them into evidence.

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